Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Education
State Board of Education
Guidance Document Change: The guidance document "Model Policies Concerning Instructional Materials with Sexually Explicit Content" was developed in conjunction with stakeholders in order to comply with SB656 (2022).
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8/1/22  8:00 pm
Commenter: Vicki Yeroian, GLSEN RVA

Affirm students and keep education in the hands of educators
My name is Vicki Yeroian, and I live in Richmond, Virginia.
As a youth development and education professional, and as a former educator of political science, I oppose the proposed model policies and call for reconsideration.
This policy does not focus on the needs of students: it caters to small groups of parents who have the time and resources to speak out, while ignoring thousands of parents who work multiple jobs, are single parents, and/or who have to rely on public institutions to look out for their child's best interest without a voice. A parent who wants to self-select literature for their child to read in public school should pursue alternative schooling models, such as private school, homeschooling, or simply by hand-picking literature for their child to read at home.  While parents have the right to choose how they approach difficult topics in their own household, they are only experts on their children and are not experts for ALL children. School are mandated to focus on all children's needs and not parent preferences for some children, enforced to all. 
While appearing to empower parents to work with schools, the proposed model policies instead make it harder for our educators to do their job and will likely result in censorship due to teacher and librarian’s fear or confusion over what qualifies as “sexually explicit content.” Instead of selecting an inclusive piece of literature, fear will force educators to limit their resources to often outdated and out-of-touch materials that do not encourage our youth, particularly those with little resources who need school support the most, to engage fully. Ultimately, that impacts achievement in reading, writing, and healthy communication with others for all students, and especially for under-supported children.
Here is the specific language that should be removed as a protection to affirm our students rights to diverse and accurate education: 
Respect parents' rights to protect their children’s innocence: Parents have the responsibility to protect their minor children’s innocence at every age and stage of maturity. As such, the Act directs the creation of Model Policies “ensuring parental notification of any instructional materials that includes sexually explicit content” and the right of a parent to choose “nonexplicit instructional content and related academic activities” for their child.
Protecting children's innocence can mean so many different things. Analyzing the vague language above, it is clear interpretations of that specific language can and will lead to the exclusion of valuable instructional materials that introduce students to LGBTQIA+ stories and experiences, and especially those by or for Black, Indigenous, and people of color. Even worse, they will prevent LGBTQIA+ youth and youth of color from accessing life-saving information about themselves. A simple search of current book banning efforts across VA clearly demonstrate that marginalized groups are being targeted across the state.
Representation matters. All Virginia students deserve to learn free from censorship and political interference. We are all better off when young people are encouraged to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion. It is for these reasons that I oppose the proposed model policies and call for the following to be included:
This policy needs to be modified specifically to guarantee that it will protect the rights of students to learn from diverse viewpoints, including having the right to learning materials that cover the perspectives and experiences of people from different races, ethnicities, nationalities, genders, income levels, abilities, and to include different family structures and cultural celebrations.
It is critical for school to be a safe, supportive place for youth. Classrooms and libraries should be a place where students are free to ask questions, explore new ideas, and learn about diverse viewpoints. Teachers, librarians, and education experts have years of experience and are well equipped to introduce diverse and sometimes difficult subjects into the classroom, and all while mitigating the harm and trauma these subjects may cause their students in age-appropriate ways. They are trained professionals whose jobs are to put the students’ interests first.  Thank you for considering my comment, and please let me know if you have any questions.
CommentID: 124446